Where NIH's Stimulus Money Went

The results are in for National Institutes of Health's much-discussed Challenge Grants, and the news is only slightly better than expected: The agency funded 840 projects, which puts the portion of the mind boggling 20,000-plus applications funded at around 4%. That's abysmal compared with the usual NIH grant success rate of around 20%. But it beats the 1%–2% (200–400 grants) that NIH originally said it would fund.

The data come from a preliminary report on how NIH spent the first half of its $10.4 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The tally comes to 12,788 grants funded for $4.35 billion in 2009. (Contracts add another $379 million.) Grant categories include previously reviewed proposals that just missed the cutoff for funding from NIH's regular budget, as well as extensions of existing projects (supplements and revisions). The dollar breakdown (see chart): $1.51 billion (34.7%) to administrative supplements, $1.43 billion (32.9%) to previously reviewed applications,  $1.15 billion (26.4%) to stimulus competitions, $218 million (5%) to competing revisions, and $45 million (1%) to summer supplements.

That's pretty consistent with NIH's plan last February to use the bulk of the money to fund already-reviewed applications and supplement existing grants. The amount of money going to each type of award varies—a summer supplement averaged $34,000, a previously reviewed grant $368,000 a year. (Most investigators will receive a similar amount in 2010, so NIH has in effect spent most of its stimulus money.)

The $1.15 billion for stimulus funding competitions includes $389 million for Challenge Grants from the NIH director's office and other institutes. The other big new program was the larger Grand Opportunity grants; NIH funded 376 of these "GO" grants to the tune of $625 million in fiscal year 2010. The data are not final and numbers are still fluctuating. A search today of NIH Reporter for Challenge Grants found they're up to 854.

Source: NIH